Guide: Culture

Culture is quite simply “the way we do things around here.” The way people behave and the ingrained habits that those behaviours form.

Culture is generally spoken about as a single term, but through our research we’ve found three key parts that are present in top performing businesses:

1. Great atmosphere

Other terms: vibe, energy, attitude, environment

An enjoyable and energetic environment is essential for maintaining high employee engagement, and therefore high employee and owner happiness. This is turn improves staff retention as well. A great atmosphere can also improve the quantity and quality of output, the “discretionary effort” given by staff, and therefore profits.

Work doesn’t have to feel like work, and every business can create a great atmosphere. The key to achieving this usually lies with first removing the chaos and stress, which then allows you the freedom to enjoy yourself a bit more. People do their best work when they’re happy.

2. Productivity

Other terms: output, work ethic, ambition

A great atmosphere needs to be balanced with great productivity. Productivity starts with the work ethic of the individuals you employ, but individuals will quickly adapt to their surrounding environment so even the highest performer can be dragged down if the performance culture is not right. The key to creating high-performance teams is leading from the front and setting clear expectations from the very beginning. Recruiting the right people, empowering them, and inspiring them are also crucial.

Almost everything impacts productivity so there are far too many points to list them all here, but the Spring Quick Wins has captured most of them so be sure to go through the list after the first workshop.

3. Creativity

AKA: innovation

Creating an environment where staff feel comfortable enough to challenge any idea, existing or new, is essential if you wish to successfully disrupt traditional competitors who aren’t thinking this way.

Unfortunately, it’s human nature to shoot the deliverer of alternative thinking, and especially bad news, so be very mindful that you’re not falling into this trap. These are often the team members you need to hold in the highest regard.

To generate those original strategic ideas of immense value, you first need to believe that a great idea can come from anywhere. You then need people who can challenge thinking within an environment that not just supports, but actively encourages, that kind of behaviour. The key is providing creativity within constraints, or what we call “Creative Commerce”2 – creative freedom with commercial discipline. The diagram below shows this perfectly.

High freedom + basic systems = chaos

This is where most small businesses sit, especially start- ups that have ambitious leaders with big ideas but very little time, experience or passion for establishing business disciplines. The result is usually a disjointed team spread too thin, with conflicting views and decisions, huge inefficiencies, and ironically, high stress levels if this carries on too long.

Low freedom + basic systems = powerless and directionless

These smaller businesses are usually run by domineering personalities who call all the shots. For staff with no systems and very little freedom to try anything new, this creates a culture of both uncertainty and frustration. The result is usually team disharmony, a lack of innovation, high frustration, and high staff turnover to match.

High freedom + advanced systems = empowerment

Where you want to be, and where a leadership team should drive the business towards. A combination of freedom within a healthy structure that provides clear direction and scope. Usually, this discipline actually serves to improve the rate of innovation, not decrease it. Staff who preferred a chaotic culture with fewer rules may no longer fit and need to be moved on.

Low freedom + advanced systems = controlling

Operationally this is a well-oiled machine but creativity
is restricted, making this a business ripe for disruption from a new entrant. The combination of a lack of freedom and the severity of bureaucracy can severely cripple innovation and therefore growth.



The Quick Wins document will contain a number of other ideas on how to address 
staffing issues and opportunities within your organisation; however, there is 
one other idea worth mentioning.

Later on, in module 3, we’ll talk more about designing the ultimate customer 
experience, but many businesses now realise the value of taking that same 
approach to design the “employee experience” too.

Surveys show that most employees find their work environment complex yet only 
a very small percentage of businesses have ever thought to use design thinking 
in their HR design to simplify it all.

Like customer design, the key is to switch places with the individual and put 
yourself in their shoes. Brainstorm all of the elements that would make up the 
ultimate employee experience, then map these on a cost-benefit diagram to work 
out which ones the business should trial next. Better yet, get staff to do this 
for you.